Having won four from four in 2017, Thulani Mbenge will be under pressure to resume his upward curve when he fights Diego Cruz of Mexico in an international 10-rounder at Emperors Palace on March 3.
This will be the main undercard bout to Kevin Lerena’s IBO cruiserweight title defence against Ukraine’s Dmytro Kucher.
Cruz was confirmed this week after promoter Rodney Berman put word out that he was after a young, hungry and capable opponent for the ever-improving Mbenge.
Cruz, a pro since the age of 16, came highly recommended, having just drawn with 35-1-1 Roberto Ortiz. Tall and rangy, Cruz (18-5-2) has a big punch and has been matched tough on the Mexican circuit, where livelihoods are often at stake in what is a vibrant, vicious boxing environment.
“It’s a calculated risk,” said Berman. “The Mexicans are seldom anything less than super-tough and Mbenge must prepare well to keep him off him. Cruz is exactly the sort of guy who will test him and tell us how deep Mbenge can dig.”
Berman’s admiration of the SA welterweight champion is well-known, and he is expected to push him hard and fast through 2018.
The division is brimming with talent and he wants to ensure he is in the international mix, at elite level, before long.
Mbenge hasn’t missed a beat so far, most notably when he produced a mature display of tactical boxing against Jayar Inson last year.
Cruz thus represents another gut-check in Mbenge’s all-important march to the top.